Antrim have relied on leader Neil McManus for too long: Conor McCann
CONOR McCann says Antrim hurling has relied too heavily and for too long on the totemic Neil McManus after they clinched promotion back to Division One on Sunday.
McManus limped out of the promotion play-off win over Kerry in Tullamore after just two minutes. In previous times, Antrim may have crumbled without the Cushendall man to lead them – but Darren Gleeson’s men responded superbly after his departure and went on to reclaim a top flight berth they last held in 2018.
“The team we have at the minute is as strong as I’ve ever seen and that goes to show what’s been said about Neil going off so early,” McCann explained.
“Neil didn’t get to touch the ball and we went on and hurled as well as we have done in any other game - and Neil would be the first man to say that he’s delighted with that because there has been too much weight put on his shoulders at times.
“He is one of the best hurlers around but he’s not going to be about forever. It’s about developing the panel and I think we’re starting to do that.
“There is a low age profile in the group and it's really, really talented. Even when Keelan Molloy went off in the second half we brought on somebody else and they did the job. Players likes Gerard Walsh and Matthew Donnelly stood up, Conal Cunning was superb, we’d loads of really good performances.”
McCann played a captain’s role, too, grabbing 1-1 while his dogged determination in the full-forward line led to a couple of vital turnovers that helped see the Ulstermen nail promotion with three points to spare.
“I thought in the second half we played really well, we really powered on. We were only one up at half-time and in the second half we came out with the bit between the teeth and we were happy with the way we stood up in the second half and got the vital scores whenever we needed them.”
McCann cited the team’s ferocious work-rate and their ability to keep Kerry’s scores from play to just 1-8.
“Around 75 per cent of Kerry’s scores probably came from frees, very few from play,” he said.
“Our work-rate was unbelievable; it just shows you the stuff that we were doing on our own stood to us. It shows the attitude the group has, that they’re willing to do that.”
Meanwhile, the Creggan Kickhams man hopes the GAA can continue despite the soaring coronavirus rates in the country.
“The situation is getting worse but we’re just happy to be playing matches,” he said.
“I know there were no supporters allowed but I’m sure they’re over the moon about promotion. Hopefully the Joe McDonagh goes ahead, safely obviously and within reason.
“I think sport is so important, especially the GAA. It’s in the blood. It’s in every community and it’s something to look forward to at the weekends.
“In the first lockdown that was taken away, there was no sport and people really struggled. If they ramp up testing and try and push ahead with the sport, safely, I think it would be a positive thing. It would be a positive thing for the people."